Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap





Soap is one of those products that we all use on a daily basis. Very few of us would consider it to be a very exciting product, nor would we consider it to be controversial in any way.

In colonial and early pioneer days, everyone had to make their own soap, since you couldn’t simply go to the store and buy the stuff. Needless to say, it was a time consuming and arduous task, and it didn’t always turn out the way that you wanted it. The link below provides some of the details about the process:


On November 6, 1959, Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel started a company called Amway, and their product line was almost exclusively health, beauty, and home care products. Initially, the company’s ONLY product was an organic liquid cleaner, but it soon added other products as well. Rather than sell their products in retail stores, the company relied on a multi-level marketing system to sell and distribute its goods. The company’s sales strategy turned out to be extremely successful. In 2014, the company’s annual sales were $11.8 billion, and the products are sold in 80 countries. As of today’s date, Richard DeVos is worth $5.1 billion. Upon his death, his son Dick (and his wife Betsy) will inherit that vast fortune, which is larger than the net worth of Betsy’s new boss, Donald Trump, who is “only” worth $3.7 billion.

In the early 1970’s, a woman named Marilyn Chambers played the role of the Ivory Snow Girl. Since the Ivory Snow Girl was “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, her role would not have been the least bit controversial. However, Proctor and Gamble soon discovered that she was the starring actress in a 1972 adult film titled “Behind the Green Door”, and she quickly became the FORMER Ivory Snow Girl.

Despite their best intentions, even large companies sometimes make mistakes in their advertising campaigns, and Dove is the latest example of a company stepping in dog doo doo.




Although the company stated that its intent with the latest ad was to be inclusive, it turned out to be racially insensitive, and it was not the first time that the company had made a similar error.





I’m fairly certain that there will be people in our country who will stop buying Dove products, but I’m also fairly certain that the “controversy” will soon be forgotten by most of us, and the company will not suffer very much for its error. The Dove brand commands a 21% share of the personal cleansing category, significantly higher than the 14% share held by second place Dial. Dove’s parent, Unilever, has annual annuals in excess of $50 billion,   

Dove quickly apologized for its ad, and quickly withdrew it, effectively “washing their mouth out with soap”. The fact that they “came clean” in a timely manner makes it much easier to move on to their next campaign, and we can all move concern ourselves with the NEXT “crisis of the week”.










Tuesday, September 5, 2017

And now, a word from MARS



On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds on The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The broadcast seemed so authentic that many people, especially those tuning in late, thought that Earth was being invaded by extraterrestrial beings from the planet Mars.

At the time of the broadcast, Welles had already achieved fame on Broadway for his 1937 production of “Caesar”. In 1941, he released the movie “Citizen Kane”, which is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

Believe it or not, some of our friends in Minnesota have a close personal relationship with MARS, which obviously requires a more complete explanation.

In the early 1970’s, our friend Dave joined the Air Force. One of his first duty stations was in the Azores, which are a long way from his home state of Minnesota.





While stationed in the Azores, Dave’s wife DeeDee became pregnant with their first child. Rebecca, who was born on February 7, 1972. As you might suspect, transatlantic phone calls were notoriously unreliable at that time, so Dave and Denise relied on MARS to let their parents in Minnesota about the birth of their granddaughter.

To give you an idea how crude the system was, I’ll let them describe it to you in their own words:

The MARS shack was located next to the weather balloon launch site on a ridge overlooking Lajes Field airbase, the Island of Terceira, Azores, Portugal.  Our operator connected to a Ham operator in Ohio, who called long distance to St. Paul.  Every phrase we uttered ended with "Over!”.

MARS is an acronym for the Military Auxiliary Radio System, and it has existed since November.1925, Originally known as the Auxiliary Amateur Radio System, the name was changed to the Military Affiliate Radio System in 1952. In 2009, the name was again changed to the Military Auxiliary Radio System.

The system was designed to provide better communication options for members of the military, and it is supported by a series of licensed amateur radio operators. It still exists today, in spite of the many other communication options that we now have.

NASA has done an admirable job of surveying the planet Mars, and has determined that there was likely some type of life forms on the planet at some point in the past. It is highly doubtful there were ever any INTELLIGENT life forms at any time in the past. However, if you have seen the movie “Idiocracy” is also apparent that there are even places in our country that are lacking in INTELLIGENT life forms.





Since its introduction in 1967 (as ARPANET) the internet has revolutionized life on our planet. Believe or not, however, it IS possible to send an internet message to the planet Mars. The official name for the network is the NASA Deep Space Network, and it relies on a series of satellites. Even though the communications travel at the speed of light, the vast distance between Earth and Mars means that messages can take anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes, which would make it virtually impossible to carry on a phone conversation of any kind.

Despite their early exposure to MARS, Dave and Denise have suffered no long term ill effects. In fact, they just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary.

A perfect ending to this story, of course, would be that they have since traveled to Roswell, New Mexico in their Saturn, and this is where truth gets stranger than fiction.




In the early 1990’s, they bought a brand new first generation Saturn. Also at some point in the distant past, they actually DID travel to Roswell, and actually spent two nights in the town. I’m actually not sure if they went there in their Saturn, but the possibility does exist.

And that’s all that I have to say …………….




Saturday, August 26, 2017

How terribly strange to be 70




 

  

The song “bookends” was one of the songs on Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth studio album, which was also titled Bookends. It was released on March 8, 1968. At the time of its release, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were 26 years old. Today, they are both 75 years old, and have considerably less hair than they did in 1968.








 

 

I have always loved the song, so I would recommend listening to an original recording of it once again:

 


 

When the song was released, I was in my junior year of college, and 70 seemed to be an impossibly old age.  Even my dad, and most of his siblings, still had not reached the milestone year of 70 in 1968.

 
Now, here’s the hard part.
 

On August 28, I will become 70 years old, an age that I once thought would put me comfortably into my retirement years, but life doesn’t always work out the way that you planned.
 

Although I have retired 4 times already, that idyllic state just hasn’t managed to stick. However, that it is also true of a LOT of the musical performers that we grew up with. Simon and Garfunkel are still performing, but so is Roger Waters, Mick Jagger, Arlo Guthrie, and Charlie Daniels. Graham Nash, age 75, was in Philadelphia just last weekend. Even Tony Bennett is still performing, and he is NINETY, for heaven’s sake.

 

Now that I am actually 70, it no longer feels strange, especially in view of the fact that several of my friends and acquaintances have already died of NATURAL CAUSES.

 

My YOUNGER sister just retired after 45 years of nursing, and is enjoying her time off immensely. In the short time that she has been retired, she has managed to have a meal at Brennan’s in New Orleans, enjoyed a meditation weekend in northern California, and had a slice at Mystic Pizza in Connecticut. Not a bad way to spend your retirement years!

 

As for me, I will likely work for another year or two (unless my Powerball ticket pays off). If that doesn’t happen, though, I still plan to live life to its fullest, and I am not planning on “checking out” any time in the near future.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 21, 2017

I work with Santa Claus


 

 

Apart from the fact that working as a substitute teacher pays pretty well for the number of hours I put in, there are 3 additional reasons that I continue to work in my so-called retirement years: 

1) every week, I learn at least one new thing

2) every week, I manage to teach a bunch of students a few new things

3) every week, I meet some very interesting people, both young and old 

When I checked into the office of a local high school on one of the first days of the current school year, I found myself standing directly behind a man who was wearing a bright red shirt, and was sporting a a delightful bushy white beard. Since he apparently would not need a pillow to fill out a Santa costume, my first thought on seeing him was “that’s Santa Claus!” As it turns out, I was exactly right.



 
 
His name is Mark. Like most baby boomers, he has held a variety of jobs in his lifetime, including bartender, music venue manager, legal researcher, stage actor, and on-air personality. As a result of his work in the music industry, he had a chance to work closely with a number of famous performers. And, yes, he got a chance to know Jerry Garcia personally. 

In 2012, he started working as a department store Santa during the holiday season. He typically works a 5 week shift, and gets paid VERY WELL for his time, and his compensation usually includes the use of a car and lodging. Since he is just as generous as Santa, he uses the majority of his "mall money" to support his charity work, which is visiting home and hospital bound children and adults in the Tucson area, which he does on a year-round basis.

As you’re probably aware, Santa is very familiar with technology. After all, how else could he keep track of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? Not surprisingly, a few years before Mark started working as a department store Santa, he started a Facebook page called Santa for all seasons.  

In recent years, he has expanded his interests to include working as a substitute teacher at local high schools. Like most of us, he usually winds up monitoring a class that is not related to his major in college (I have yet to monitor an Economics class). In the Army, people who are trained cooks wind up being mechanics, and trained mechanics wind up being cooks. Somehow, it works for the Army, and it also seems to work for local school districts here. 

Not everyone gets to work with a celebrity on a daily basis, but if you’re listening, Virginia, I have a few words of wisdom for you: 

There IS a Santa Claus! 


 

 

 

 




 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Welcome to Transylvania




Transylvania is a real place, even though you might initially think that it is a location invented by Bram Stoker as a setting for his famous novel, Dracula.

It is located in what today is central Romania, and it has a very long history. Prior to its conquest by the Romans in 106 AD, it was the center of power for the kingdom of Dacia.

It’s not entirely clear what inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, but invasion literature was very popular in England during the last years of the 19th century. Dracula was published in 1897, but was actually preceded by at least 3 other vampire novels in the earlier parts of the 19th century. Bram Stoker spent 7 years researching European folklore and tales of vampires, and was heavily influenced by Emily Gerard’s 1885 essay titled ”Transylvania Superstitions”. Although Bran Castle in central Romania is commonly referred to as Dracula’s castle, it bears no resemblance to the fictional one created by Stoker.





The word “trans” suddenly became a hot topic a few days ago, due to the actions of our tweeter-in-chief. Without consulting with his military leaders, Trump issued an edict (by Twitter) that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the military “in any capacity”. Although it is difficult to know exactly how many transgender people are serving in the military, studies done by UCLA and the Rand Corporation put the number between 10,000 and 15,000.

Although the majority of Trump’s decisions appear be impulsive, with little regard for facts or consequences, it appears that he may have had a little help on his latest decision. To their credit, our military leaders do not plan to take any action until they are ordered to do so by John Mattis, our Defense Secretary.

In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality determined that, compared to the general population, transgender people:

Were 2.3 times more likely to serve in the military –

Were 3 times more likely to have experienced a sexual assault -

Were 3 times more likely to live in a household that had an annual income of less than $10,000 –

Were 4.8 times more likely to experience police harassment –

Were 8.7 times more likely to have attempted suicide at some point in their lives

The “man behind the curtain” on Trump’s recent decision is James Perkins, the head of Family Research Council. Early in his career, he purchased Klansman David Duke’s mailing list for use in a political campaign he was managing, and in 2001, he gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group. Perkins is a graduate of Liberty University, a right wind Christian college that was founded by the late Jerry Falwell. 

Although the Family Research Council describes itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power”, its real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called it an anti-LGBT hate group, putting it in the same category as the Westboro Baptist Church. 

The Family Research Council was founded by James Dobson in 1983. In recent years, the group has also set up a Facebook page called Faith Family America. If you review their page, you will notice that I added some background about its parent organization on April 2, but it was not an April Fools joke.

https://m.facebook.com/faithfamilyamerica/?refid=46&sld=eyJzZWFyY2hfc2lkIjoiMDE3OWY0ZmZjYTAzZmMwM2MzY2E5OTBkYzkxZGY5OWEiLCJxdWVyeSI6ImZhaXRoIGZhbWlseSBhbWVyaWNhIiwic2VhcmNoX3R5cGUiOiJTZWFyY2giLCJzZXF1ZW5jZV9pZCI6MTg3NTU1ODk4NSwicGFnZV9udW1iZXIiOjEsImZpbHRlcl90eXBlIjoiU2VhcmNoIiwiZW50X2lkIjoxODQ4NTk3ODUwMjYwNjAsInBvc2l0aW9uIjowLCJyZXN1bHRfdHlwZSI6Mjc0fQ%3D%3D

James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Resrach  Research Council, recently expressed his belief that transgender people using public bathrooms should be killed, completely ignoring the fact that “irregularities” in public bathrooms were the exclusive domain of Republican politicians. 
  

I’m not opposed to folks who consider themselves to be religious, but I AM opposed to the ones who hold extreme religious views. The same people who STILL believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim also believe that Donald Trump is a Christian. Both of those beliefs, of course, are pure fantasy.

Sadly, the religious extremist part of our population strongly support a man who is clearly mentally ill. In August of 2016, Michelle Bachmann (the queen of crazy) told the Christian Broadcasting Network that God picked Donald Trump to be the Republican Party’s nominee, and the “religious nuts” believed her. 81% of the white evangelicals voted for him.




To further solidity that base, Trump invited 30 religious leaders (including Bachmann) to the White House in early July, where they laid their hands on him as he bowed his head in prayer. He also recently nominated Sam Brownback, the failed governor of Kansas, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. 

It’s not clear at this point how Trump’s desire to rid the military of transgender people will pan out, but I predict that it will follow the same path as the Muslim bans that he tried to implement earlier, and head straight to court. Since it is illegal in America to discriminate against people due to race, creed, color, national origin, or sexual preference, his edict is also unconstitutional, and likely to be stopped by the courts.

Although Bram Stoker’s novel was a commercial success, the character of Dracula became MUCH more popular after the motion picture industry started making movies about the character. To date, there have been more than 200 movies that have been made that either used him as a villain, or included his name in the title of the film. None of the actors who played in those films, however, will ever be as well known as Bela Lugosi, who starred in the 1931 film version.

If you carefully study a picture of Bela Lugosi, you will notice that he has a very distinctive hairline. If you also study a picture of Anthony Scaramucci, who was recently named as the White House Communication Director, you’ll notice that his hairline is a very close match to the one sported by Bela Lugosi.









Just a coincidence, you say?

Probably, but wouldn’t it be interesting to have Dracula strolling through the White House late at night?

As Donald Trump tossed and turned in his sleep, in preparation for his next 3 a.m. tweet, the sight of Dracula strolling through the halls would likely bring back memories of Ichabod Crane (from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) rushing away in terror from the flaming pumpkin tossed his way by Brom Bones (the headless horseman).




Perhaps we would never see him again.

Now, wouldn’t that be a damn shame? 








Monday, July 24, 2017

Alice's restaurant



I love old churches.

On a trip to Oceanside, California earlier this year, our small group walked through Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, which was founded in 1798, Since it is the largest of the 21 missions in California, it is known as “the King of the Missions”. It has been close to ruin several times since it was first built, but it is now a beautifully restored and fully functional building.


  

As impressive as this building is, it is not the oldest church that I have been in, a distinction that belongs to Mission San Xavier del Bac, which was completed in 1770. Today, it has been beautifully restored, and masses are still celebrated there on a regular basis. It also happens to be located about 5 miles from our current home in Tucson.



If we ever get tot Germany, I’d like to retrace our daughter’s steps, since she actually got inside the cathedral in Cologne. Construction on this place started in 1248. If you would like to get a better idea of what is was like to build a structure like this a LOT of years ago, read “Pillars of the Earth”, by Ken Follett.


The July 23 edition of USA Today had an article about the “repurposing” of some of the old churches in our country. Sadly, at least a few of them have been razed to become a Walmart, but most of them have fared better than that. The most expensive example of repurposing is a condo development in Washington, D.C. known as The Sanctuary, where individual units sell for as much as $1,000,000.

The best known repurposed church (at least to us baby boomers) is a church that was built in 1829 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The original name was St. James Chapel, but in 1866, it was enlarged and renamed Trinity Church. At some point in time it was deconsecrated, and in 1964, it was purchased by Alice and Ray Brock, who converted it to their private home. In 1965, they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the place, and one of their guests was a young man named Arlo Guthrie, who they had met due to their mutual connection to the art-oriented Stockbridge School. After dinner, Arlo and few other guests offered to take out the garbage – and that’s when things got interesting.




I’ve actually been to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (the scene of the crime), and I have seen both the former church that the Brocks bought (now the Guthrie center) and the local police station, where officer Obie used to work. I have even been to Alice’s first restaurant, which was located directly below the studios of Norman Rockwell.

Arlo Guthrie purchased the property in 1991, and converted it to the Guthrie Center, a non-denominational church. Every year at Thanksgiving, the center hosts a “Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat”, and the proceeds from the dinner are used to fight Huntington’s disease, the ailment that killed Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie.

Some of the church repurposing in our country has taken a more sinister side, since at least a dozen churches in America (including one in my old home town of Evanston) are purported to be haunted. Although the real officer Obie died in 1994, and his old chair sits inside the Guthrie Center, he has not made an appearance – so far.

If you ever find yourself in the Northeastern part of America on a road trip, and you’re feeling hungry, just remember this fact:

You can anything you want at Alice’s restaurant. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m57gzA2JCcM















Monday, July 17, 2017

This swill is not swell


 

 

The summer after I graduated from college, I shared an apartment near St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota with three other guys, all of whom had at least some connection to the St. Paul seminary. One of them eventually became a Catholic deacon, and one of them actually made it all the way through the ordination process – but it got complicated after that. 

What we all had in common was a fondness for beer. Fortunately, one of my roommates (John Huls, who later became a pilot for the Air Force) went home to northern Minnesota on nearly a weekly basis, and he always brought back at least one case of Fox Deluxe beer, which sold for less than $3 for a case of 24 bottles. 

As you might suspect, Fox Deluxe is not what you would consider to be a “premium beer”, but in 1969, there weren’t a lot of premium beers anyway.  

As I was waiting in line this morning at a local grocery story, I thought of Fox Deluxe again, largely due to the fact that the customer in front of me was buying a 30 pack of Busch beer, which sells for roughly $17.99, not much more than you would pay for TWELVE bottles of the better known craft beers like Samuel Adams, Shock Top, or Blue Moon. . 

Fox Deluxe was brewed in Chicago until the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, when production was shifted to my old home town of Waukesha, Wisconsin.  A short time later, production was shifted to the Cold Spring brewery in Minnesota. 

Due to the proliferation of craft brewers in America, you would assume that Fox Deluxe had simply gone the way of the dinosaurs – but you would be wrong. 

Today, there is a new Fox Deluxe brewery in Oswego, Illinois. Their offerings include an IPA, a wit, a doppelbock, and an abbey blonde, all of which are a far cry from what Fox Deluxe sold in the summer of 1969. 


One of the definitions of “swill” found in the Urban Dictionary is “cheap crappy beer”, which the 1969 version certainly was. 

Just as there is still a market for MD2020 and Ripple wine, there is also still a market for what is now called “sub premium beer”, which holds roughly 10% of the market share for beer in America today.   

The Slate article included below provides more insight into the “sub premium” market. Although I would recommend that you read it in its entirety, here are a few of the highlights: 



Natural Light – it’s the best-selling beer in the sub-premium category, and the 5th best- selling beer in the country. According to RateBeer.com, however, it is the second worst beer in the world, trailing only Olde English 800, which is a malt liquor. 

Milwaukee’s Best – according to The Beast, it should more properly be called Milwaukee’s Worst. The best description of the beer, though, is the description of it by a Beer Advocate user named bambam2517: 

Took about 9 of these before I could swig down a swallow without making a clicking sound with my cheeks. Once I got past that though, it was all I thought it could be. Got me cross-eyed, piss in my roomies sock drawer drunk. Left me with a skull splitting hangover the next morning. Everything I remember from it in college is still true. 

Busch – introduced by Budweiser in 1955 to undercut Budweiser’s low end competitors. The most redeeming quality of the beer is its label, which depicts snowy mountain peaks. 
Image result for busch beer
 

Miller High Life – the “champagne of beers” used to be considered high class, but its image slipped when Miller discounted its price in the 1980’s. 

PBR – this is the only one of the sub-premium beers whose sales have increased this past year, possibly because it is now considered to be a “rebel” beer 

Porkslap Pale Ale – not necessarily the best beer of the group, but worth buying just to get the label.


Image result for porkslap pale ale
 

None of us will ever try any of the world’s most expensive beers, even though I’d be tempted to buy a Samuel Adams Utopia if I suddenly had more money than I knew what to do with. What’s particularly interesting is that a version of Pabst Blue Ribbon also would up on the list. 


Whether you like beer of not, it’s a fact that Benjamin Franklin had this to say about it: 

“beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” 

How can I argue with that?